The Great Rift: Capitalism and the metabolism of nature and production

August 7, 2013 -- MRZine -- John Bellamy Foster: We need a society that is geared, as István Mészáros always tells us, to substantive equality. And no compromise on the issue of equality. Bolívar said equality is the law of laws. So we need substantive equality and we need ecological sustainability. And they have to go together. How do we know they have to go together? Because what is causing the ecological damage and what is causing the social damage is the same thing: it's the rift in the production system; it's the alienation of nature, which is one with the alienation of human society.

In Marx's perspective these things are actually a whole -- it's an alienated whole, and we have to restore the integrity of it. You can't have substantive equality without ecological sustainability and vice versa. In terms of agency we have real problems, but there are things that are happening -- mostly happening in the global South. I think that we underestimate how much is happening there. La Via Campesina is an international peasant movement. It has been developing, and, incidentally, they have been using the concept of metabolic rift to explain their own situation, which is exciting.

Look at Bolivia. Of course there are all sorts of problems about extraction in Bolivia and so on, but the People's Agreement in Bolivia on climate change is the best that we have in the world, and it's been initiated in the global South.

Why is that happening? It's because actually the ecological and social contradictions are greater in the global South than they are in the North. And I think that we are likely to see, we are already seeing, the emergence of the environmental proletariat... Basically material conditions are coming together. We are accustomed to think about material conditions as just economic conditions, but increasingly they are environmental conditions too.

More and more the distinctions between environmental conditions and economic conditions are going to dissolve... If you look at the Pearl River Delta in China, you get the sense of what could happen... We have solutions to all these problems. As Karl Marx said, humanity only raises those questions it can solve. We actually have the technologies we need, the renewable technologies. The main thing we have to do is to change our social relations. And we need conservation. But conservation isn't that tough when you are wasting 99% of everything you produce.

[John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. His latest book, written with Robert W. McChesney, is The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Creates Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012). This talk was given at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation's salon in Berlin on May 28, 2013. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the talk (which begins at 0:03:14 in the video).]